Monday, September 24, 2018

Acts 27 - "My Days are in His Hands"

Previously we have seen that the Roman governor Festus and the Jewish king Agrippa agreed that Paul could have been set free, had he not appealed to Caesar (26:32). And so the voyage to Rome begins. A Roman centurion, named Julius, of the Augustan cohort (a regiment stationed in Caesarea) is put in charge to deliver Paul to Rome.  

They were being accompanied by Aristarchus, a Macedonian   whom we first met in Acts 19:29. He, along with Gaius was said to be one of Paul’s travel companions. He is also mentioned in Acts 20:4. In Colossians 4:10 he is mentioned as being Paul’s fellow prisoner, and in the short letter to Philemon, written from prison in Rome he is mentioned in the final greetings (Philemon 23). 
Also notice the ‘we’ in 27:1 and following. Luke, the writer of the Acts includes himself in this journey.    
The route takes them by way of a coastal route, and the first port of call is Sidon, not far from Caesarea. After a short  layover at Sidon where Paul is allowed to go ashore  to be cared for  among his friends there, the journey continues  on the leeward side[1] of Cyprus, struggling  somewhat  against the prevailing westerly winds until they reach the  port of Myra in Cilicia (Paul was born in Tarsus, Cilicia).  In Myra they change ships. The ship   which they are now boarding came from Alexandria in Africa and it was sailing to Italy (v.6). This journey proved to be difficult from the start. The winds were now directly against them. You can’t sail into the wind. The best sailing is done when the wind is from behind you. The next best option is when it is coming from the side, in which case you have to engage in a manoeuver call tacking. Luke records that the journey proceeds with difficulty until they arrive at the port of Cnidus and then down to Salmone on the island of Crete and on to Fair Havens near Lasea on the island of Crete. The problem here was that this was not a good harbour to winter in. The ship would not  enjoy safe anchorage  there.  From ancient shipping history we learn  that  sailing in this part of the Mediterranean after September 14 was considered to be dangerous, and after November it  was considered to be impossible. It's already mid-October. Luke records that the Fast – i.e. the Feast of Atonement (celebrated by the Jews each year in September-October) has already passed (v.9).  Paul is nervous about the sailing conditions. He has crossed this sea on numerous occasions and seasons and he knows some of its dangers. In 2 Corinthians 11:25 he tells us, “Three times I was shipwrecked; a night and a day I was adrift at sea.”  He had suffered shipwreck 3 times before! This was most likely his fourth experience. What a hazardous undertaking it was to cross the sea in those days!

Here we see that Paul, with his considerable experience warns the owner and the captain that it would not be wise to proceed (vv.10,11). But they are between a rock and a hard place, it seems.   The majority thinks it’s better to push on to Phoenix, a harbour in Crete, further up the coast, and off they sailed.  The south wind (ideal sailing conditions ) began to blow gently (v.13), and we imagine someone saying, “You see, the Lord is with us.” Now, that illustrates the fact, that circumstances are not reliable guides for Christians. “When the south wind blew gently ” might have suggested  that ‘God is  in this’, but as it turned out, he  was not. They should have listened to God’s man, God’s voice on the boat!  And it is so tragic that so many of us  take our cues  and leadings from  ‘little signs’ and ‘cues’ and mystic leadings,  but we  are not anchored  enough in the Word of God, and do not trust  the wisdom of  our appointed  leaders enough in such situations  where sensible guidance is to be sought. Jesus warns us not to judge by mere appearances (Jn. 7:24); He warns us not to judge according to the flesh (Jn. 8:15). Proverbs 14:12 counsels us, “There is a way that seems right to a man, but its end is the way of death.”  And moreover we ought to make greater use of that great gift of God  which is sometimes called ‘sanctified common sense’.  Common sense at that time dictated that this was a dangerous sailing season.  Do you get the drift? (Forgive the pun!)
And then a tempestuous wind (anemos  tuphōnikos- tuphon, from which the word typhoon originates)  also known as the northeaster (eurokludōn)  came up  (v.14)!  The ship is basically taken out to sea … driven along (v.15).  In this state they continued for 14 days (v.27). By now they have no idea where they are, and there comes a point at which they  (there are 276 souls in the ship- v. 37) begin to lose all hope (v.20). The Mediterranean has continued to be the graveyard of many, in our day we hear particularly of African migrants trafficked by ruthless men from Africa to Europe. They, in their less than seaworthy boats are always  at the mercy of this sea that is known for its  unpredictable climate and winds.    And so it is, with no hope and no food. It is time for Paul to say something. And he says, “You should have listened to me. I told you this would happen!”  (v.21). We have no reason to believe that he said this in a self-righteous manner. 

Take note of the words that follow in vv. 22-26, “Take heart, for there will be no loss of life among you, but only of the ship.” And why was Paul able to say this with confidence?  Because of what follows in vv. 23-26.  He knew without a doubt that   their lives were in God’s hands. God appeared to Paul in the form of an angel, and with the angel came a two- fold assurance: (i) you must testify before Caesar (ii) God has granted you all those who sail with you.  Their lives were in God’s hands.    
After the 14th day adrift in the  Mediterranean, the circumstances begin to change. The sailors suspected that they might be nearing land (v.27).   Maybe they heard the pounding of the surf. And they began to prepare themselves for shipwreck. Some aboard wanted to  stow away in a small boat – a  dinghy, and when Paul saw  this ,  he warned them that they  would suffer the loss of their lives. Wisely they listen to Paul this time and let go of the boat. They will not survive if they do not stay in God’s hands.

Another practical matter:  Faith is practical. Paul encouraged them to eat, so that they would have strength to negotiate the shipwreck and the strenuous effort   of getting ashore (v. 33). Cooking had been impossible for the last 14 days . Who has much appetite in the midst of a violent storm on a ship? My own experience as a young boy on a small fishing trawler in storm season between Walvis Bay and Cape Town confirms this.  But Paul says,   “You need to eat! Get your strength up.” Once again, this is practical  or ‘sanctified’ common sense. What a gift from God  to have a man in their midst who saw  issues clearly, and can give directions  and leadership, when others were making bad decisions (like leaving the ship)  and  not taking care of their bodies.     
But more significantly Paul now assures  the  crew and passengers of a spiritual directive and assurance which he received from God … ‘not a  hair is to perish from their head.’ Their lives are in God’s hands.   Note the prayer associated with the handing out of the bread. Paul gave thanks for the food (v.35). In all circumstances give thanks, for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you  (1 Thess. 5:18)   

In vv. 39-41 we find the account of the shipwreck. Initially the soldiers planned to kill the prisoners. But Julius the centurion, who by this time clearly had developed a soft spot for Paul,  forbade that. As the ship hits the surf and begins to break up it's every man for himself. Those who could swim were ordered to head for land. Those that could not  swim were told to hold  onto planks or pieces of the ship and drift ashore. And so v. 44 records, “it was  that all were brought safely  to land.”  What a wonderful providence. Paul is vindicated  again in his words.

THREE VITAL LESSONS from the KEY TEXT in vv. 23-25

1.     V. 23.  the true nature of  our life in Christ.For there stood by me this night an angel of God, to whom I belong and  whom I worship.” He belonged to the Lord. Paul regarded his whole being as belonging to the Lord.  Dear  Christian friend, you will most enjoy your Christian life when you recognize that you belong to the Lord, and that all of your activities are part of your  reasonable spiritual service  to God.
2.     V. 24 The doctrine of divine fore-ordination of all things: We know that this journey (inclusive of some real crises)  must be a success, because Paul must stand before Caesar.
3.     V.25 Concerning the true nature of faith. “Take heart men, for I have faith in God” that it will be exactly as I have been told.“  True faith is simply the acceptance of the teaching of the word of God. 

So Paul, in the midst of the storm, with all its challenges knew that the true Captain of this boat was not the captain and the crew. His life was not in the hands of Julius the centurion. His life was in the hands of  God. He was the captain of His soul and Master of his destiny.    
These are lessons from the storm. There is another wonderful story to tell, as I close.  Many of you know the  hymn, Amazing Grace, written by John Newton.  The origin of this hymn finds  itself in a remarkable deliverance  from a violent storm at sea. John Newton, on  the 10th of  March 1748, found himself en route back to Liverpool, as his ship, the Greyhound, encountered a violent storm off the coast of Ireland. She was relentlessly pounded by heavy seas for many days. She began to take on water. Newton, who was not yet a Christian pleaded with God to spare him and the crew. But the storm  continued for a number of weeks, as the damaged vessel drifted helplessly and food supplies ran low. 
Newton later wrote in his autobiography, 
‘We saw the island of Tory and the next day anchored in Lough Swilly in Ireland. This was the 8th day of April, just four weeks after the damage we sustained from the sea. Then we came into this port, our very last victuals was boiling in the pot; and before we had been there two hours, the wind began to blow again with great violence. If we had continued at sea that night in our shattered condition, we must have gone to the bottom. About this time I began to know that there is a God that hears and answers prayers‘.
While her crew enjoyed the hospitality of the locals  and local tradesmen set about repairing the Greyhound, Newton attended church at nearby  Londonderry and it is thought that he penned the first verse of Amazing Grace while at Lough Swilly.
Amazing Grace! How Sweet the sound , hat saved a wretch like me.
I once was lost, but now am found, Was blind but now I see.

For the rest of his life, Newton marked March 10th as the date on which he was converted to Christianity.

[1] Windward  is the direction upwind from the point of reference, alternatively the direction from which the wind is coming. Leeward is the direction downwind (or downward) from the point of reference.

Sunday, September 16, 2018

2 Timothy 4:5-8 "Finishing the Fight; Running the Race; Keeping the Faith."

The Bible  often compares the Christian life to a walk  or a pilgrimage, and  in Paul’s letters to  Timothy  the  Christian life is  also compared to a fight (cf. 1 Tim. 1:18,6:12) and a race[1].We see this in our passage. These metaphors all have one thing in common. They all have an end-goal, a destination in view.  You walk and run to get to a destination.  A boxer or wrestler fights to get a victory. There can be nothing aimless about the Christian life.  Where are you going with your Christian life? The call is to  go onward and forward, often engaging in  spiritual battles along the way, always striving  towards the goal and the prize- the crown of righteousness which the Lord, the Righteous Judge will award on that Day.

This is part of Paul’s parting counsel for Timothy, who has been called to work as a pastor-shepherd in this very challenging environment in Ephesus. His goal as a pastor would be to be to present all God’s sheep perfect (ESV mature) in Christ, so that they too would win the crown of righteousness.
When we are  born  and  grow up without  the gospel  our goals naturally   become  focused around ourselves and the  best we can think about is how to  work for a good retirement policy, dreaming about ending our lives in  a house at the sea or on a  quiet farm somewhere. There is almost  no thought about where my immortal soul will go after I die, and little thought about the fact I am ultimately accountable to the God who has created me. Consequently, I do not take cognizance of the fact that a life without Him now will also issue in an eternity without Him.   From the moment you are born again however, all that changes. When Jesus takes hold of you, He by His Word helps you to see that you are on a journey, a pilgrimage, a walk and in fact a race to get to the finish line called heaven.  Where are you heading?  Where is your journey leading you to? Where are you going to?

The second letter to Timothy is our final record of Paul’s earthly correspondence.  In this past week a  well -known newspaper man in Namibian circles, Des Erasmus, died at the age of  81. He wrote his last column on the 31st August 2018, when he knew he was dying,   and he entitled it,  Ek sê koebaai” (I am saying goodbye).We trust that he knew where he was going when he said his last farewell to his appreciative readers. These are Paul’s final words, and he knew where he was heading. Next time, in our last sermon from 2 Timothy we will consider his final greetings.    
This letter strongly indicates that he is aware that he does not have long to go. He is  heading for  heaven, and he wants to leave vital counsel with Timothy.  Please note the ‘as for you‘ in v. 5 and the ‘as for me’ in v.6 .  Paul is ending his ministry and Timothy is really only  at the  beginning of his ministry.  And so, these are his  words:
5 “As for you, always be sober-minded, endure suffering, do the work of an evangelist, fulfill your ministry. 6 For I am already being poured out as a drink offering, and the time of my departure has come. 7 I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. 8 Henceforth there is laid up for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous judge, will award to me on that Day, and not only to me but also to all who have loved his appearing.

It is good to think about, and prepare for the day of our death. All of us will find ourselves in a similar situation to Paul, when we must say… the time for my departure has come. And we want to be sure that those that follow  are  well instructed  and focused  on  their Christian pilgrimage!  

1.     By  being seriously  ministry minded NOW  (v.5)
2.     By facing the reality of  our  own death (v.6)
3.     By  fighting  the good fight, finishing the race, keeping the faith(v.7)
4.     By looking forward to heaven (v.8)

1.     Being seriously ministry minded- NOW! (v.5)

“As for you, always be sober-minded, endure suffering, do the work of an evangelist, fulfill your ministry.
Paul was going and Timothy was coming.  It was important now for Timothy to be sober-minded, to endure suffering, to do the work of an evangelist, and to fulfil all the duties of his ministry because soon he was going to be on his own. Soon there would be no Paul to consult.
  •    “...Be sober-minded.” The NIV translates, “keep your head in all situations”. Paul is saying to Timothy, ‘be calm and collected…be composed… keep a cool head … stay focussed on Christ Jesus. Don't get taken in by what the world around you says and does … by what the false teachers (3:1-8) are saying and claiming. Keep focussed on that goal. This is an important exhortation for a minister of the gospel because there are (believe me)  so many voices continuously shouting at a pastor for attention … this way, that way and the next way…Timothy, be sober-minded!
  • “Endure hardship.” How many times have we heard Paul say this in the pastoral letters. The nature of the Christian ministry is a continuous spiritual battle.  This is par for the course. Expect it, live with it, plan for it, and do not be surprised when this happens. Jesus has warned us: “I have said these things to you, that in me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world.” (John 16:33)    
  • “do the work of an evangelist.” The goal of the Christian ministry is to evangelize –to announce the Good News of God’s salvation plan to the whole world. The goal is to seek the lost sheep of Jesus. This is the responsibility of every Christian. Our eyes continually scan the horizon to see where those lost sheep might be.  This is the heartbeat and longing of the Christian church- to see people delivered from the life of sinful meaninglessness and self- absorption, gathered to Jesus. To this end we labour and strive, says Paul in 1 Timothy 4:10.  We ought to be longing for and pray for true  conversions.
  • “...fulfill your ministry.”  Do all of the things that you are called to do by God.

2.     Face the reality of  your  own death (v.6)

Paul was in prison and on trial in Rome. From the book of Acts we learn that he had chosen to go there, to appeal to Caesar. He had been brought safely through the first hearing (v.17), but he fears that he is not going to escape the clutches of Roman emperor Nero for the second time. He was sure the end was near.
  • “I'm being poured out as a drink offering.”  The picture comes from Numbers 15. Apart from the sacrifice of a lamb upon the altar, wine was also poured out next to the altar. Paul is saying to Timothy, “I'm being poured out like that wine, next to the sacrificial lamb on the altar. I have poured myself out for the gospel of Jesus - the Lamb that was slain.” By his example he is encouraging Timothy and us to do the same.  Knowing that you have to die, and to leave this sinful world for paradise, offer up your life, next to Jesus. Be poured out next to His sacrifice. That is the picture here.  For Paul his whole life and all his actions were an offering to God.
  • “The time for my departure has come”.   The ship is leaving port, and as it is released from the ropes  at the quay,  it is slipping away quietly, as  the gap steadily  widens between the quayside and the ship, ready to head for the next  harbour.  That is the Christian approach to death. Beloved, in death, we as believers are not facing nothingness, and gloom and darkness. We are setting out on the final journey to our promised reward- a most wonderful place. Dying  for the Christian  is the beginning of a new life. In fact,  Paul throughout his life had a desire to depart and be with Jesus. That better, by far! [Phil. 1:23 

3.      Fight  the good fight, finish the race, keep the faith (v.7)

  • “I have fought the good fight”. The Christian life in this world is a continuous fight against the world (religious and pagan opposition), the flesh (indwelling and original sin) and the devil (the god of this world – 2 Cor. 4:4).
  • “I have finished the race”. When God met Paul on the Damascus road (Acts 9) and set his face on a new path, Paul began a race  from which he never flinched. When Paul met with the Ephesian elders he expressed his desire: “if only I may finish my course and the ministry that I received from the Lord Jesus.” (Acts 20:24). Well, by now 10 years have passed and he is about to finish his course.   Every Christian has a course set out for them.  Everyone is exhorted to finish that course.  The writer to the Hebrews exhorts us to “run with patience the race that is set before us” (Heb.12:1). God,  our heavenly Father  has mapped out each course and He will provide you  with  the stamina, determination and the means  to finish the course.  
  • “I have kept the faith.” I defended and proclaimed the true gospel. Paul was not always popular, nor was he always comfortable, nor was he always easy to understand, but he was always faithful to his calling.

This is what  is before you, dear Christian. Fight, finish and keep  the faith. May all of you die in full assurance of these things! 

4.     Looking forward to heaven. (v.8)

What does Paul anticipate as he looked ahead?8 Henceforth there is laid up for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous judge, will award to me on that Day, and not only to me but also to all who have loved his appearing.
Paul anticipated facing an evaluation of his life, a judgment, a vindication and a reward. God has so designed it  that we live in a  moral universe in which,  what men sow,  that they will also reap.  Note this.  Paul fully expects to receive a reward upon entering into glory. This is not a  contradiction of the biblical doctrine of salvation by grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone. He is not smuggling a doctrine of works  into  his doctrine of salvation. The Bible undeniable teaches a doctrine of rewards.  God will reward His faithful servants.  Paul anticipated every  faithful Christian to receive  a  reward. “– and not only to me, but also to all who have longed for his appearing”.

The main thing we need to see is this. Paul’s life was driven by something greater than this temporary life.  He wasn’t working for his pension fund. His treasure is not here. His reward is in heaven with God. His reward is the crown of righteousness.  Now, he has already been made righteous, but he is still living in the present in which there is so much unrighteousness.   He longs for a day when sin will have been totally eradicated from him, when its presence and power is gone. This will happen  at the  appearing of the Lord Jesus Christ. Do you long for the coming of Christ?

[1] See also Acts  20:24; 1 ; 1 Cor. 9:24; Gal. 2:2;5:7; 2 Tim 4:7; Hebr. 12:1

Monday, September 10, 2018

Acts 26 "Your Testimony will not change anyone. Only God can! "

REVIEW:  This is the third time Paul is giving his defense– before Felix (Acts 24),  before Festus (Acts 25), two years later  and now before King Agrippa II (Acts 26).  In Acts 25  we saw  that  King Herod Agrippa II and his sister  Bernice  (rumour had it that they had an incestuous relationship) were  making a visit to Caesarea to meet the new governor, Festus.  King Herod Agrippa  is a Jew, but  he is  loyal to the Roman empire. Festus  the new governor  of the territory in which  Herd Agrippa  is king tells him about Paul  who  had been  imprisoned by  the previous governor, Felix.  Agrippa  expresses a desire to hear  from Paul himself.  This happens  in  Acts 26, the chapter which we shall now  review.


v. 1  The  hearing begins with real pomp and ceremony (26:23).  Paul is brought before the court in chains (26:29).  Agrippa  summons Paul to speak for himself.  “Paul stretched out his hand and made his defense.” This was a usual gesture on the part of the speakers  who  addressed public assemblies. Orators and those that addressed  public meetings  stretched their the right hand out while the  left hand  remained under the cloak. Here the effect must have been impressive, for we remember that  he was  chained.  What a picture Paul must have presented here. By the way, we only have one description of the Apostle Paul in an apocryphal writing,entitled, The Acts of Paul and Thecla[1],“A man of small stature, with a bald head and crooked legs, in a good state of body, with eyebrows meeting…and a nose somewhat hooked; full of friendliness, for now he appeared like a man, and now he appeared as an angel.”

Note the detail with which Luke records Paul’s defense before King Agrippa and keep in mind that it is more than Paul which is on trial here.  Christianity is on trial here.  

We can learn much from Paul, and the general way in which he defends and presents himself in the public eye. Apart of the customary  displays of  acknowledgement  and  respect  in vv. 2,3  to the governing authorities, we learn  something  important about  Paul’s way of presenting himself before  a watching world.
In vv.4,5 he says, “My manner of life from my youth, spent from the beginning  among my own nation and in Jerusalem, is known by all the Jews. They have known for a long time, if they are willing to testify, that according to the strictest party of our religion I have lived as a Pharisee”. 
Paul  must have been a familiar figure in Jerusalem, when as a young man, he sat at the feet of Rabbi Gamaliel (22:3). Under Gamaliel he gained a reputation for scholarship, righteousness and religious zeal. Many Jews knew how he had lived as a child, first in Tarsus, then in Jerusalem. Paul’s opening defense therefore has to do with his own integrity, character and demeanour. In essence he is saying, “I have nothing to hide. My life is an open book. Everybody knows where I have come from and how I have lived.  You can check out the facts for yourself. I am not lying. I am not trying to deceive you. You know me better!
It is a wonderful thing to have a strong moral and ethical basis. And it does carry some weight. Many people at the coast knew my father. He was a hardworking, honest business man, who treated his work force fair and well, and he was well respected in the community in Walvis Bay. Over many years I have come across many people that have affirmed this. He was not a believer, but he was strongly shaped by a Christian work ethic. He kept his word and made good his promises. I know!

And so, Paul has a strong basis in proceeding to give his testimony. He will not deceive. He will tell the truth, because this is how he has grown up. He   can be listened to. And so, in this very intimidating setting Paul is called to   give an account of his faith in Jesus, and in particular he addresses again the matter of his hope in the resurrection - based upon a clear promise made by God to the Jewish fathers. Paul’s hope in the resurrection was obviously hugely strengthened when he did meet, in person the resurrected Lord Jesus (whom the Jews had handed over   to the Romans to be killed) on the Road to Damascus.  

In vv. 9 –18 Paul shares his personal testimony in terms of how Christ first encountered him on the road to Damascus, when he  was in the process of persecuting Christians. Here   he was made to understand that in persecuting Christians, he was in fact persecuting Jesus (note the organic union between Christ and his people).  
Paul testifies   how he was changed radically by this encounter.  He now knew that this Jesus whom he had persecuted was truly alive. The resurrection of Jesus  (which the Jews said was a  hoax)  was true after all!  It confirmed  the promise of God to the Jewish fathers.  In vv. 22,23 he ends by saying that this what  Moses and the prophets  (the Scripture)  had prophesied…”that the Christ (i.e. the Messiah) must suffer and that, by being the first to rise from the dead, he would proclaim light both to our people and to the gentiles.”  Isaiah 53 would be a classic text reference   

I remind you that this history tends to repeat itself. Martin Luther,  at the time of the Reformation wrote in his Commentary on the letter to the Galatians (Gal. 1:4),   “We teach no new thing, but we repeat and establish old things which the apostle and all godly teachers have taught before us."  Remember the context!  The Catholic Church said that the Reformation was a new thing, and that the doctrine of the Reformers was a new doctrine. But it wasn’t. Luther and the Reformers merely repeated what the Bible and her apostles had said, particularly with respect to the  doctrine of salvation. Salvation is by grace through faith in Jesus alone. Salvation is not (as the RC church teaches … through  faith in the acts of  the church  e.g. in baptism, eucharist, extreme unction etc). Paul merely said  that which the Bible had previously said, but which  the  present Jews chose to ignore at their own peril. Again, please note that they ought to have believed Paul,  simply on the basis of Paul’s own  credible life  and  testimony, for his life had been an open book to them. I almost imagine that  Paul  would be repeating is statement in his letter to the Romans  in 9:1:  “I am speaking the truth in Christ- I am not lying; my conscience bears me witness in the Holy Spirit.”  
At this point  Paul is interrupted (v.24).  
Festus interrupts Paul. He  is probably  getting uncomfortable or convicted,  and he  says: ”Paul,  you are  out of your mind; your great learning is driving you out of your mind.” You are becoming a crazy professor!  And Paul in turn denies  that he is crazy and affirms, “No, … I am  speaking true and rational words” (v. 25)
And now  Paul  does  something which he has done before. He plays the two parties off against each other.  From Festus he turns to  king Agrippa (a Jew), and he says to him, “King Agrippa, do you believe the prophets? I know that you believe” (v.27). Agrippa knows that  he  can’t deny the fact, but  he is working quick and hard  to get out of this sticky corner. “Do you think that  you can persuade me in  such a short moment  to become a Christian?” (v.28). The Gospel  about Jesus  as presented through the truth and facts  of the  Old Testament prophets  is  forcing Agrippa’s hand. And he doesn’t like being in a corner, because he knows more than he is  willing to confess–  something which is true of every natural man. He does not like facing his conscience.  ‘Do you think you can persuade me in such a short  moment? He is clearly planning to get this conversation  over and done with.  That is what people always do  when they  do not want to face ultimate truth. Truth demands an honest response, and it can hurt. Even if your record before them is impeccable, they will  cut you off, because they do not like change  or hurt! 

And thus  Paul has only one more thing to say,  “I wish not only you, but all who hear me would become as I am…” — a Christian …except for these chains.” (v. 29). With these words  Agrippa, Festus, and Bernice and those sitting with them, rise to leave (v.30), but  they are all agreed that nothing that  Paul had done or said was  worthy of death or imprisonment (v.31). He could have been set free, had he not appealed to a higher authority- Caesar.    

The overriding  and sad truth however  was that they  would not hear the life giving words, the resurrection words, the true and rational  words of Paul,  all of which was undergirded  by a humanly impeccable life, but greater still,  a life  so irreversibly  and powerfully and dynamically touched  by the Lord Jesus  on the Damascus road.

O the coldness and darkness of the human heart!  

I end with this story.  On August 1, 1914, Sir Ernest Shackleton and his crew left London aboard the ship Endurance, bound for the Antarctic. They hoped to cross the Antarctica on foot.  It never happened because, before the Endurance could reach land, she became hopelessly stuck in sea ice. And from this point on, the goal of the captain and crew became simple survival, facing many hardships facing freezing temperatures and near starvation. But of all the terrors they faced, none was more discouraging than the darkness of the long polar night. In early May, the sun vanished altogether not to be seen again until the end of July. In his comments on this experience, Shackleton's biographer wrote, “In all the world there is no desolation more complete than the polar night…no warmth, no life, no movement. Only those who have experienced it can fully appreciate what it means to be without the sun day after day and week after week. Few men unaccustomed to it can fight off its effects altogether; and it has some driven some men mad.”

It is a sad story, but there is something much  sadder, than this,  and the Bible speaks about a  deep and frosty  darkness  that encumbers every human soul, and this  ultimately  leads to a much greater despair, and that is the spiritual darkness of living in the world and afterwards in hell  without Jesus Christ.

Jesus has been proclaimed by Paul and by us as the light of the world (see 26:18), delivering us from darkness and the power of Satan and the chains of sin. And only God (26:29) by the powerful, irresistible work of the Holy Spirit (see Paul’s own conversion) can do that.If the grace of God is not first at work in the human heart, no one will believe, even if your life  speaks as well as Paul's does.

Will you spend some time now, and also in the course of this coming  week to pray again that God, in His great mercy would open those frosty dark hearts of those that you love and pray for every day?  Clearly, your open life and your loving words will not do it in itself. 

Come let us pray  and ask this of our merciful  Saviour in these closing moments of our evening worship.   

Monday, August 20, 2018

2 Timothy 4:1-4 "Preach the Word!"

We have previously seen in 2 Timothy 3:1-9   that we live in a world that doesn’t  take naturally to the truth  of God’s Word.  This  is confirmed once more in  our text, in 4:3,4, in which  we shall see  that people  do not  naturally love  to listen to sound, plain  teaching from the Word of God [cf.  2 Cor. 4:1ff]. 
Even though  the Bible is an extra ordinary, God inspired book   book,  we  find that we  are not naturally drawn to the reading  of the Bible  and to the listening  of the  simple  and clear exposition of the Bible, without gimmicks added.  
We struggle to keep up a basic discipline to read the Word regularly and systematically and to sit regularly  under public Bible teaching.  By nature people  are  more inclined  to love myth. By nature they love drama and hype and noise., and therefore they would far sooner gather around themselves teachers who tell  them  what  they  want to hear, rather than what  they  need to hear.

Our appetite for truth  and obedience  and love for God  does not  come naturally, even after we are converted. We struggle because  our old nature  battles with the new nature which we have received at conversion (Eph.4 :17ff).
In truth it sometimes feels  as  if two  dogs  were living inside of us – a good  dog and an evil one, and, depending on which dog we feed more – that dog wins  the battle for our heart and minds. Because of this, Christians  that frequently wander away  from  the Lord tend to struggle  with depression.

All this is due to the fact that we continue to live in a fallen word in which there is a fallen being, which the Bible calls Satan. John says that the world is in the grip of the evil one (1 Jn. 5:19). The apostle John calls this the spirit of the anti-Christ  (1 Jn. 2:18,22). The apostle Paul calls this “the devil’s schemes”, the “powers of this dark world … spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms“. Paul   also reminds us in Ephesians 6:10-18, that our life is a battle against the devil  who seeks to  control and manipulate this world which God has  created.

This battle manifests itself primarily in a dislike for absolute truth. The Bible claims such status for itself: It is absolute truth (John 17:17), and for this reason Satan among many other schemes  has made sure that there would be a massive battle for the reliability, authority and trustworthiness  of the Bible  in the last century. Satan knows that God’s truth is against him. And so he tries to minimize and relativize the significance of God’s Word.     Satan’s strategy in the garden of Eden, by which he deceived  Eve  is still the same  strategy which he uses  today. He still whispers into our ears, “Has God really said … Did He really  mean this?” (Gen. 3:1)  He wants us to question God. He wants us to question God’s authority. And people under his power do the same.

Thankfully, I can tell you this on the authority of God’s word, that this battle, though it is often  very testing and trying,   it is ultimately  a battle  which  belongs to the Lord.  Our text here  in 2 Tim 3:14 - 4:2  teaches us a high view of God’s Word,  and it speaks to us of the fact that there will be a day of vindication, ‘by his appearing and his kingdom’,  when Christ shall instantly  overturn the works of Satan, and when His truth shall reign.

Having then discussed  the state of the world  in 3: 1-9, and having established the basis for the inevitability of evil and   suffering  and the Christian’s perpetual struggle against it (in 3:10-13) and having given the  antidote  against   all evil  and  deception by holding on to the authority of  the Word of God  ( in 3:14-17), Paul now  makes a solemn charge  to Timothy, pastor in the city of Ephesus in 4:1-4.

Observe then:
·       V.1 The seriousness  of the charge.
·       V.2 The content of that charge.
·       Vv. 3,4  The  context to this charge.

1.  A serious charge (v.1)

1 I charge you in the presence of God and of Christ Jesus, who is to judge the living and the dead, and by his appearing and his kingdom.  You and I are living in the midst of this  great battle for faith. What must Timothy do – what must we  do in the meantime, while we wait for  Christ’s appearing and kingdom? Paul is giving a solemn charge, and it sounds almost like  a charge  made at an ordination service or the administration  of an oath in which  he calls on God to be  a witness.  In doing so he piles up  five  solemn phrases:  (i)  “I  charge you....” (ii)   “ in the presence of God” (iii) “and of Christ Jesus“  (iv) “Who is  to judge the living and the dead” (v)  “and by  his appearing and his kingdom”.

What Paul is about to say is a very weighty matter. “In the light of all that I have said before I am charging you before God with this, Timothy!  In the light of the days that we are living in and the circumstances that we are living under, don’t fail in this! For this you will have to give account ultimately not to me or to your  congregation. You  will have to give  an account to God the Father and  the  Lord  Jesus (and I want to add, the Holy Spirit because  he has inspired the Word  cf. 2 Tim. 3:16) – the Tri-une  God  is the  One we have to look  to and give account to!

2. The content of the charge (v.2)

‘Preach the word. Be ready in season and out of season. Reprove, rebuke, exhort with complete patience and instruction.’ Take note of the 5 imperatives: preach, be ready, reprove, rebuke, and exhort. All this is contained in the duty of preaching the Word in these days.
Preach!  (Gr. kērussō – to  announce/ herald  - making a public announcement).  Publicly proclaim the divinely authorized message from God to man. This is really the same work that the Lord Jesus came to do (e.g. Matt. 4:17). He made a public announcement: “Repent for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.”  That same work He gave His disciples to do at various times and in the great commission (Matt. 28:18-20). This became the work of the apostles and many others after Pentecost. They preached the word of the gospel to all nations!

Why is it so crucial and so very urgent that this same Word needs to be preached today? Because every new generation needs to hear this.  Because there is a judgment to come!   

When does the Word of God need to be preached? In season (Gr. eukairos) – when  the time is opportune  and when  people are eager  to hear, and out of season (Gr. akairos) when, as in the days of Jeremiah  nobody wants to listen. The Word from God needs to be preached  whether   people think it is relevant or not; when people are responsive or not.

How does this word  need to be preached?  
·    Reprove and rebuke…”. Preaching is not only the proclaiming of what the Bible teaches positively. Preaching needs to contain warning. There is no prophet in the Bible that did not, in the Name of God,   warn the people of his day. The work of the prophet was to hold the Word of God before people and to warn them   concerning their   sins. They spoke to the people’s conscience, and they aimed for conviction with a view to repentance.  The prophet reminded people of the consequences of sin, and he wasn’t allowed to water down the truth.  It is very tempting to focus only on positives, and never say what is wrong.  Preachers need to do both, and people need to know the difference, and that means being both positive and negative in our proclamation.
·       Exhort (Gr. parakaleo – admonish, urge).  Get alongside them and speak to them   in a fatherly or motherly way. Persuade them to turn from wrong things or from a wrong course of action.  Encourage them to do  what is right in God’s  eyes.

Remember that  the power for salvation lies in the preaching of the Word [Rom. 1:16-17] "For I am not ashamed of the gospel of Christ: for it is the power of God unto salvation to every one that believes; to the Jew first, and also to the gentile."

 3. The Context of this Charge: (vv. 3,4)  

3 For the time is coming when people will not endure sound teaching, but having itching ears they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own passions, 4 and will turn away from listening to the truth and wander off into myths.

Timothy needs to keep on preaching the truth, because a time is coming when people will prefer myths to truth. They will prefer messages that their itching ears want to hear. They will prefer that to listening to God’s Word, and in the midst of such times there needs to be the proclamation of that unchanging prophetic Word of God, standing out as a  tall beacon of eternal truth, even when men and women  prefer myths.  

The task of preaching  the Word of God is so urgent because of the imminent spiritual dangers to the flock of God, and in the light of His appearing.  Let me say this again. The world is for ever pressurizing the church to of compromise the truth. And it’s a subtle pressure. But it always relates to the seriousness with which we regard the Word of Truth. And so we find that churches no longer read the Bible publicly. We find   services where the word of God may be read, and then the message has absolutely nothing to do with it; and then we have services which lead the people astray with false teaching.  We see this everywhere  and I have to deal with this on an almost weekly basis.
And the  preaching of the Word is so urgent  because of  the fact that God has appointed a  time of accounting when  at the time of His appearing He will judge ALL people  by the standard of His Word. Flee from the wrath that is to come! (Lk. 3:7)

More than ever  we need to be urged   to  preach the Word  because of these days  that are reflected in  vv. 3 & 4 ,  are reflected in our own times.   God’s kingdom is appearing. Every day, hour, minute and second it is coming nearer. The Judge is  standing at the door (James 5:9). And when He is  here  the day of salvation is over. That is why the counsel of Hebrews is critical-  “TODAY, if you hear his voice … do not harden your hearts”  (Hebr. 3:7,15;4:6

Now, you may be saying, ‘That's all very  fine and good’. This is not for me. This  is a word for preachers.   But think very carefully  about your response .

·       This is a word for you too because you have people in your circle that no pastor- preacher can reach.  Have you not been entrusted with the gospel? In fact, your pastor preacher is there to equip you to do the work of  the ministry (Eph. 4:12).  

·       This is a word for  you. You need to hear the urgency of the Word - ”by  his appearing  and his kingdom: PREACH THE WORD!” When this season of grace is over men and women will have to give an account of themselves before God. And it will  be gnashing of teeth for many.  Tell them now  before it’s too late.

·       This is a  word for you.   We need faithful, systematic biblical teaching and expository preaching, giving us the whole counsel of God.  You don’t need psychological pep talks and feel good sermons.  No, you need  God's logic- God's way of thinking about this world! Granted, it can be  challenging to sit under God's Word  because it  convicts you  in  areas that you might not want to have touched or addressed. The Word of God  plainly spoken  has the habit to invade  places in your inner being that you have been trying to keep God out of. That  can be very painful, and yet, it is so very necessary that God should do this work in us, for the Word of God is  given  to cure us of our spiritual (and associated)  diseases.      
That is why we  remain   committed to expository preaching.  When you’re preaching God's word, you are giving people answers to the real questions and issues in life. So  this is relevant for you,  for it helps you to pray for your preachers who are charged to  preach the Word  and who lead by example.